A handy guide to choosing safer sunscreens, and 9 surprising things about them

Sunscreen can help prevent sunburns that are a major risk factor for skin cancer, when used correctly. But not all sunscreens are created equal: some offer more or less protection from different kinds of harmful rays, and some contain ingredients that are linked to increased cancer risk. One of those additives, vitamin A (sometimes referred… READ THE REST

My favorite sunscreen product is usually not on the market: a combined sunscreen and bug repellent.

I don’t always use sunscreen when I should. I don’t always use bug repellent when I should (living in a state with Lyme and EEE hotspots, bugs can be more than nuisances). The combined product may sometimes be overkill, but it more than doubles the odds that I’ll use appropriate protection.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, it seems to do poorly on the market. Maybe store owners are afraid it will reduce their total sales. Maybe people who are paranoid about DEET won’t buy it. I dunno, but next time I see it I’m going to be tempted to buy a case.

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The “What Not to Bring on Vacation” portion of the EWG website suggests forgoing the combined products:

  1. No Combined Sunscreen/Bug Repellents Skip products that combine bug
    repellent with sunscreen. Why? For starters, bugs are typically not a
    problem during the hours when UV exposure peaks. Also, sunscreen may
    need to be reapplied more frequently than repellent, or vice versa. We
    recommend that you avoid using repellents on your face, too. Studies
    indicating that combining sunscreens and repellents leads to increased
    skin absorption of the repellent ingredients.

For starters … it depends on where you are. Swampy land means bugs at any hour. And the worst bug attack I ever experienced was black flies at midday.

Also… “may” is a weasel word.

Avoiding repellents on your face: This, again, is someone who has not faced serious bug density.

OK, I grant, bug veils and such may be a better answer, as may permethrin-coated clothing (vs. repellent applied to skin). Fact remains: A product which stays on the shelf does even less good, and I will use the combined when I won’t use the others.

There aren’t many bugs on a typical beach, so if that’s your idea of vacation maybe this is good advice. For camping, hiking, or simply working outdoors, I know what works for me.

My favorite sunscreen is my roof. Works great, no side effects.

Several years back, I did the Bowron Lakes circuit in BC, and the bugs were the worst I’ve ever seen. Needless to say, I was glad I had the 98% DEET juice. I only had to apply it once, and it killed anything that landed on me for a week.
And I only suffered trbblial bain dablage.


As students, we used to get pure DEET through lab supply in 5-gallon jugs. Much cheaper.

The Environmental Working Group is deceptive. They are actually “warning” people about the dangers of sunblock, which is sleazy because sunblock is a lot less dangerous than UV radiation. There are no known environmental risks from sunblock. Boingboing, you should not have linked to them. They are a sleazy source. There are some much more accepted sources on this subject.

I typically use whatever we have on hand, but my wife is allergic to just about every kind except the old school titanium/zinc oxide stuff. So it’s like +$10 for one of those baby Aveno that has like 4 oz or so in it.

(And it’s not like she isn’t just one shade darker than albino…applying TiO2 makes her ghostly white.)

I avoid sunscreen whenever I can. Only times when I’ve used it in the last 10 years are when I go somewhere tropical during winter (rare, unfortunately). I just make sure to allow my body to gradually acclimate to the sun without getting burnt. If you pay attention to your body, it’ll tell you really clearly when you’ve had enough. No thanks to chemicals on my very important outer organ! I think it inhibits all sorts of processes like vitamin D absorption but that’s just a hunch - I haven’t looked it up or anything…
P.s. I am VERY pale naturally and as a kid I’d use spf 45 and would still burn like a lobster…

I often forget sunscreen, though I rarely go shirtless. I spent every summer of my 20s working outdoors either in the woods or on the ocean, which meant lots of sun exposure and some bugs. I am suspicious of the claims of sunscreen merchants - it is not clearly healthy or even worthwhile. But I do wear it when I’m on the water.

Won’t wear bug repellent, though I might consider it in a region with serious bug-borne diseases. After a few years working outdoors in the muskeg of Northern Alberta, I just had to decide to ignore the bugs.

Mine is sheets and a comforter. Why would anyone want to be awake when the yellow face is up?

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And yet, you didn’t provide them.

You know that you can get clear-drying zinc oxide from Epicuren. As long as you don’t mind taking out a second mortgage. It’s about $30 for 2.5 oz, but one tube will give you months of coverage. And it’s non-greasy. Sadly, it appears to be unavailable at the moment.

As someone who already had skin cancer before age 40 (despite minimal sun exposure), and who has dysplastic mole syndrome and a one in five-to-ten chance of developing melanoma, I’m going to stick with sunscreen if I have to go out in the day.

Penny Arcade has the solution!


I didn’t provide them because I’m not here to shill for anyone. Look up the FDA website. Look up Consumer Reports. Ask your dermatologist. The EWG is a bunch of lies trying to scare people away from using sunblock or even from limiting their sun exposure. This is nuts. I won’t go into a detailed refutation of all their lies because it’s a mistake to even get involved at their level.
Would Boingboing run promo materials from the tobacco industry saying how benign tobacco is, and talking about the hidden dangers of not smoking?
Skin cancer is the #1 cancer in the US and it is largely preventable. Use a sunblock, preferably with zinc. In addition, stay out of the sun or cover up with a large hat and long sleaves. Any sunblock that’s SPF 30 or more and has zinc oxide is safe and effective.
Again, Boingboing, you should be ashamed to be posting a bunch of harmful lies. Especially you Xeni. You’re a cancer survivor and the EWG is promoting risky behavior by scaring people from doing well-established things that prevent deadly cancer. EWG is quack science just like the other stuff that is routinely debunked here on Boingboing.

You do not need to spend that much money to get something effective. Look on Amazon. Search for zinc oxide sunblock. Try a bunch of options. I’m partial to Elta MD but there are many others that are effective, thin and non-greasy. All the zinc oxide blocks have a whitish quality to them, but that looks a lot better than wrinkles and cancer.

Epicuren is perfectly and completely clear. Between that and the non-greasiness, it’s like having nothing on your face. Well worth the money, although I use something cheaper on other body parts.

You avoid sunscreen whenever you can? On what basis? This is a dangerous religious belief, just like a lot of other quack religious beliefs that result in people getting cancer, like people who tout homeopathy. Sunscreen has been researched for decades. We know the science behind skin cancer and sunblock. It’s uncontroversial.
I don’t care if you get skin cancer, that’s your choice, but I’m upset that others like EWG are promoting it, and that Xeni fell for the same kind of quack science she has condemned repeatedly in other posts.